Wednesday, June 02, 2021

Review: Monkey

What a strange and memorable series Monkey is ... I'm sure many readers of a certain age will recall the adventures of the Buddhist Priest Tripitaka (Masako Natsume), and his travelling friends Monkey (Masaaki Sakai) (a monkey God), Sandy (Shiro Kishibe) (a fish spirit) and Pigsy (s1: Toshiyuki Nishida, s2: Tonpei Hidari) (a pig spirit), along with (in the second season) Dragon (Shunji Fujimura), a horse which can turn into a human ...

We've just finished rewatching the entire series, and so I felt a few words of review were in order.

The show originated in China, along with its soul mate, The Water Margin. Whereas The Water Margin was for adults, with more serious plots and storylines, Monkey was definitely for kids. It had lots of fighting, demons who were basically humans wearing furry hats and make-up, and who often as not had horns on their heads, and plots which presented the simplest of moral challenges for the protagonists.

Series One is the better of the two. Here, it all seems to take itself more seriously, and the actor playing Pigsy is better (he changes for Series Two for no apparent reason).

Why the show succeeds is in the dubbing into English. As with The Water Margin this was undertaken to try and match the words to the characters' lip movements, rather than being a literal translation of the dialogue. Thus it all seems to work, even if what they're saying isn't what was intended. This all reminds me of the dubbing of The Magic Roundabout, where the original French soundtrack was scrapped, and it was given a new English narration based on what the writer thought the story was about, rather than what it actually was. I have no idea if any episodes of Monkey ended up being about something completely different, but it's amusing to think they did.

Another thought that struck me was how the series prefigured all the Power Rangers shows, which also have a band of heroes fighting monsters and demons, many of whom have outrageous costumes and make-up ... there are a lot of parallels.

The English Dub actors for Monkey were as follows: Monkey: David Collings; Tripitaka: Maria Warberg; Sandy: Gareth Armstrong; Pigsy: Peter Woodthorpe; and Horse: Andrew Sachs.

You may notice that the monk Tripitaka, is voiced by a woman ... well he's played by one as well (Masako Natsume) ... but no-one ever comments or suggests that the character is anything but a boy! It's the British Pantomime tradition alive and well!

When we move into Series Two, several things change. The titles are different, and not as good. The closing title music is different, and not as good. Pigsy is played by a different actor, who is not as good, and indeed Peter Woodthorpe seems to give a different vocal performance to the character, again which loses much of his charm. Overall the show becomes sillier, more one-note and less compelling. The stories are all samey and generally involve a village being terrorised by Demons which the group have to try and defeat ... It's a shame really as the series still had much potential which was unfulfilled.

One thing I really enjoyed were the visual effects. Generally speaking, every panoramic longshot of mountains or lakes or whatever were models, with tiny figures of the characters in them, and the effects of Monkey on his cloud, spinning through the sky, and other such visuals, are superbly realised. There are such a lot of them too - the effects budget must have been quite high for the series.

There's surreal episodes too, like one where a small child has toothache, and so Monkey reduces himself in size so he can enter the boy's mouth and beat up all the decay who are singing songs as they attack the enamel! The effects here are again tremendous, and the sets and costumes suitably strange.

Overall, Monkey is a fun little series, which benefits from a rewatch. It's not quite as good as perhaps we remembered, but it has lots to commend it.


Review: Panopticon Destiny (2021)


Anyone fancying a delve back into the early days of UK fandom, and, indeed to the first ever convention dedicated to Doctor Who, could do much worse than to seek out these DVD releases from Reeltime Pictures.

The year was 1977, and a young chap called Keith Barnfather organised the world's first ever Doctor Who convention ... held in a Church hall in Battersea, London, the event was attended by about 200 fans from all over the country (and some from overseas!) who were members of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, under whose aegis Keith organised the event.

In 2017, 40 years later, Keith organised a reunion event, which brought many of those same fans back to the same venue to meet and reminisce and to see special guests including John Leeson, Mat Irvine and Terrance Dicks talk about the event and their memories of it.  The whole thing was recorded by Reeltime Pictures and released as Panopticon Genesis the same year.

Now Keith has delved into his storage cupboards, and found the original cassette tapes on which he recorded the panels at that original convention all those years ago. Back then there was no budget video, and no-one thought, or had the funds, to record the event for posterity on film ... so all that remains are still photographs, and Keith's tapes.

Thus Panopticon Destiny revisits the event with footage from the 2017 gathering, along with commentaries from various people involved to set the scene for the audio restoration of these tapes. The task was undertaken by Alistair Lock, an audio genius of some standing, who talks us through what he had to do to extract listenable sound from the murk and hiss and hum of the years. What he achieves is quite incredible, and you can hear Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker's replies to questions with clarity. 

It's incredible to think that this was the first ever time that the actors - including Louise Jameson - current producer Graham Williams, Visual Effects designer Mat Irvine, and writer Terrance Dicks, had ever been faced with a roomful of 200 or so fans and taken questions from them! There had been smaller events and gatherings previously, but nothing on this scale before.

There's also included on the DVD a panel at a more recent DWAS event - 2017's Capitol II - where Keith Barnfather, Kevin Davies and Andrew Beech talk about that first ever convention.

It's an incredible glimpse back into the past, and it's superb that Keith had the foresight to record - and keep! - the cassette tapes of the panels ...

The audio from that 1977 event is also presented on the DVD ... so you can listen again to those questions and answers from 44 years ago!

The DVD is available from:

PANOPTICON GENESIS: https://timetraveltv.com/programme/492

PANOPTICON DESTINY: https://timetraveltv.com/programme/500

Monday, May 31, 2021

Review: JNT Uncut (2021)

 JNT Uncut is a new DVD release from BBV, and I think there's some words of explanation needed to put this interview into context, and to provide a little history.

Way back in 1993/4, a chap called Bill Baggs was a big fan of Doctor Who, and, like many other fans, he decided to do his own Doctor Who on audio. However, aware of the BBC's rights position, he took the actors who had appeared in the show, and made his own adventures, calling them 'The Stranger'. He even named his production company BBV, the rumour being that people might mistake it for BBC - in fact BBV doesn't even stand for Bill Baggs Video as you might expect, but Bill & Ben Video! 

Baggs also licensed the rights to use various Doctor Who monsters from their creators and copyright owners, and thus we had audios featuring Zygons, Kryoids, the Rani, K9 (also featuring 'The Mistress', played by Lalla Ward), the Sontarans and The Wirrn, and written by people like Mark Gatiss, Nicholas Briggs, Lance Parkin, Robert Shearman (writing as Jeremy Leadbetter) and Pip and Jane Baker. Where he couldn't get the rights, he did something similar, as with the Cyberon - converted humans and nothing at all like the Cybermen ... 


In amongst all this audio and video drama work, Baggs also released some documentary tapes. There was an interview with Sylvester McCoy and others, recorded by McCoy himself as a sort of 'travelogue' when he was travelling to the set and location for the making of the 1996 TV Movie, which starred Paul McGann as the Doctor. Bidding Adieu was something of a coup at the time, and there was much interest in what Baggs was doing.

Indeed, Baggs had in many ways picked up the baton of Doctor Who spin off audio started by Briggs and Gary Russell back in 1984 when they launched their own cassette series called Audio Visuals, a range of tapes which ran until 1989. It wasn't until 1999 that Big Finish started releasing audios, again starting with Bernice Summerfield spin-off stories, and Baggs had very much paved the way for them to do that with his own releases, showing what could be done with the monsters and the characters when freed from BBC budgets.

Another project which Baggs created was a video version of a factual book by Adrian Rigelsford called The Doctors. The book was released by Boxtree in February 1995 and covered the whole of the Doctor Who series to that date. Unfortunately Rigelsford's research methods extended to making up facts, interviews and quotes from many who were involved in the show, and then using them to enforce his own invented narrative about the show, and thus the book was largely discredited once historians and proper researchers got to see it. However, the book was released, and Baggs decided to do a video version of it. The problem of course is that in interviewing anyone he could find, much of Rigelsford's 'research' was discredited ...

However, Baggs managed to pull together a creditable documentary, called The Doctors: 30 Years of Time Travel and Beyond which was probably most notable for the interview with Peter Davison, where the actor was less than complimentary about the show.

The interview with producer John Nathan-Turner presented on this Uncut DVD was also recorded for this documentary. It was recorded at a time when Doctor Who was no longer being made by the BBC, and the year before the TV Movie was released. Nathan-Turner was at this time no longer a BBC Producer, having left the role a few years previously. He was, however, still involved with the merchandising, advising on the official Video and Audio ranges for the BBC.

It's a surprise therefore that he agreed to be interviewed by Baggs at all, but in this piece, recorded down in Nathan-Turner's home town of Brighton, he seems guarded and unamused by everything. Baggs can be heard off camera, asking questions and trying to lead Nathan-Turner in to offering opinions, but the Producer isn't biting, and is giving serious and straight answers. He comes over as professional, considered, and, indeed, given what went on in the Doctor Who Office, generous to his colleagues and actors in praise and understanding of what they were all dealing with.

There are no scandals rehashed here, and I wonder if Nathan-Turner had half an eye on keeping back anything which might be of genuine interest for his own documentary or set of memoirs.

It's amusing, however, to hear Baggs trying approach after approach to get the Producer to open up, and Nathan-Turner blocking him at every attempt. This isn't to say that the interview isn't interesting ... it is ... and Nathan-Turner has a lot to say - he's not responding with simple 'yes' and 'no' answers, but with long and considered responses. He's just not dishing the dirt.

It's a fascinating interview with John at a certain point in time, which is why it's a shame that this is all that is on this disk. There are no sleeve notes which put the piece into context, there are no extras on the release - save some PR video for Baggs' audios and other current projects - and I have to say that the DVD sleeve is awful. With dark text on a black background, tiny font and poorly reproduced pictures, this just screams 'poor quality fan release'. However the quality of the piece with John is fine - Baggs however is very hard to hear, but then to be fair, his questions were never intended to be heard on the final interview anyway.

There is some further information on the interview on the BBV website: 'Bill Baggs first met JNT as a fan at the BBC Doctor Who Production Office in the 80's. He later worked with JNT on various projects. Bill conducted this interview as part of the BBV DVD 30 Years of Time Travel and Beyond produced in 1995. In the recording sequence of filming, Bill conducted this interview last in order to give John the opportunity to respond to criticisms from other contributors. The cafe where it was filmed was local to JNT in Saltdean, near Brighton where he was a regular visitor. When Bill first approached John about the documentary, John was initially resistant to take part, asking why he'd been left until last. However, once Bill explained the logic of 'save the best 'til last' John agreed.' 

It's a shame that this text isn't also on the DVD case!

If you are a fan of Doctor Who, then this is an interesting view of John Nathan-Turner, with the story told in his own, measured, words at that particular time.

JNT Uncut can be obtained from https://bbvproductions.co.uk/products/JNT-Uncut-DVD-p339234531

Monday, April 26, 2021

Review: Malevolent (2020)


One of the most noticeable things about the plethora of low low budget films on Amazon Prime and Netflix is the number of ghost and haunting-type screenplays that there are. I guess this is because making a haunted house/shop/lift/car film with a small budget is easier than most other sorts of horror flicks. I tend to think this shows a lack of imagination and ambition, and is perhaps insulting to classic low budget films of the past like Night of the Living Dead and Halloween ...

Therefore when you see a film which says it's about a group of so called paranormal investigators scamming victims with fake 'exorcisms', my mind immediately went to the cheap and rubbish setting. But in this case, I was doing the film a disservice ...

We chose this one to watch as one of the leads, Ben Lloyd-Hughes, actually stars in my wife's forthcoming film The Stranger in Our Bed (she wrote the bestselling book on which the film is based, as well as the screenplay). We've not yet seen the film ... so we thought we'd catch up on what Lloyd-Hughes was like as Jackson, the lead investigator ... and he's brilliant!

Malevolent, directed by Olaf de Fleur Johannesson with a screenplay by Ben Ketai and Eva Konstantopoulos, based on the novel Hush by Eva Konstantopoulos, starts out like many other Haunted House films: a group of young and pretty investigators looking into some hauntings, faking some results and then claiming they have removed the problem ... except it's all a scam to get money.

Then they get a gig at a crumbling mansion in which the owner, Mrs Green (Celia Imrie) claims there is screaming. They investigate, but Angela (Florence Pugh), one of the team who actually does seem to have real psychic powers, starts to see young girls appearing, but they have their mouths sewn shut. The house has a murky past, and Mrs Green was somewhat involved ...

This is then where the film turns on its heel and becomes something of an Eli Roth torture-porn-type film, with Mrs Green turning out to be a dab hand with the needle and thread, as well as with a hammer, a pair of garden secateurs, and other sundry nasty implements of pain.

If you have a strong stomach, then it's not a bad watch. There are some moments of WTF as we progress, with previously unseen characters appearing, and a confusing ending - I don't think the writer or director really knew how to end it ... or they wanted it to appear on those websites which explain the endings of films to people ...

It's certainly a step above other fare, with great production values, some superb performances from all concerned, and convincing effects. The cast also includes James Cosmo - and he's always worth the price of admission - but Celia Imrie, along with Florence Pugh, are the real stand-outs here - both holding their own as the paranormal erupts around them!

Friday, April 23, 2021

Review: The House of Screaming Death (2017)

We found this film on Amazon Prime, and with no expectations, decided to give it a whirl.

It's always something of pot luck with films on Amazon as they seem to have no quality control at all, and so many is the time that we've started and then failed to finish a film. With The House of Screaming Death, at least we managed to stay the distance, but it was a struggle.

The good points first. The title is superb. Except that when you watch the film, there is no screaming ... plenty of death though. Ian McNeice, playing The Architect, is superb. A quality actor, with a smashing voice which brought back fond memories of John Houseman telling the story of the fated smugglers at the start of The Fog. He acts as the Storyteller here, introducing the four tales which make up the film. The sequences are well staged and shot, and promise much ...

Then we have the four short stories which make up the film. And this is where the problems start. None of them are particularly coherent, falling into the trap of low budget filmmaking of having them way too drawn out and talkie. There isn't much in the way of action, and characters spend interminable amounts of time standing and talking to each other ... and the dialogue is often not up to scratch too. There are several anachronisms scattered throughout. For example, in a sequence set in 1974, one character laughs off that his partner is scared by saying 'I see dead people all the time', which is of course a line from The Sixth Sense, released in 1999. A better line would perhaps have been 'They're coming for you Barbara', from the 1969 Night of the Living Dead

There are also one too many stories here - the film is overlong and needed to have half an hour at least cut from it - so the first story, 'The Lady in Grey', where a voice-over narrator tells us a tale while a chap mopes around the house, should have been cut completely. It's the weakest of the four.

Next is 'The Witch in the Mirror' which shows more promise, but which falls down as it is so complicated. A stern edit could have sorted this one out. But the acting is mostly dire and stagy, and believability is a real issue.

'The Vampyre' is third, and while it seems modelled on an M R James-type scenario, is nowhere near as good. The effects are also poor - the vampire's make-up has unfortunate visible lines in it - and the talking ... the endless talking ...

Finally we have 'The Diabolique' which is another talkie tale, virtually indistinguishable from the others. So much so that I'm struggling to remember anything about it!


The film purports to be an homage to the great days of Hammer and Amicus, and portmanteau films like Asylum and The House that Dripped Blood. But the filmmakers needed to have a good close look at what made those films work: simple stories, a camp sense of fun, and an outrageous tone in the horror which presented true surprise scares and endings for the audience.

I suspect that no-one will be surprised by the end of The House of Screaming Death, except to wonder what it all means and why all the dead bodies are there ... It is, to be fair, a classic anthology ending, and McNeice plays it for everything.

It's always saddening to have to give a poor review to something into which an awful lot of time and effort has been put. I wish the filmmakers had had the courage to step away from their own scripts, and to take advice from elsewhere, or to adapt extant stories from the plethora of British horror anthologies which exist. A good script editor would also have been a boon here. However, I have to say that this is nowhere near the worst film that we have tried to watch ... there is a lot of promise ... and even getting a project of this scope completed is a major achievement!

One thing the makers did get right is the publicity. Looking online there are loads of teaser trailers, posters and imagery which promise something far, far better than they actually presented. A case of their ambition outstripping their resources perhaps. I hope they get something together to do another film, and next time, keep it simple, keep it fun, and get in a really good scriptwriter!

Review: A Cure for Wellness (2016)

This is billed as a psychological horror, and I'm not sure if that is 'code' for confusing and bemusing as that's the reaction that I had to it.

Directed by Gore Verbinski (who was behind three of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and the 2002 The Ring) and written by Justin Haythe, based on a 1921 novel The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, the film follows Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), who is sent by a financial company in New York to Switzerland to retrieve their CEO, Roland Pembroke (Harry Groener) who has decided to stay at a 'wellness centre' in the Alps. Lockhart's attempts are blocked by Dr Heinrich Volmer (Jason Issacs) and when he leaves the place he is involved in a car accident, and wakes at the centre, discovering that he is now an inmate himself. 

There then follows all sorts of strangeness, where the water from the local aquifer is given to all the patients, but it is toxic and makes their teeth fall out. Lockhart befriends Hannah (Mia Goth) who has been there all her life and she turns out to be Volmer's daughter, who he wants to marry - there is a 'cure' which they take from small blue bottles which seems to prolong their lifespans. There are also eels in the water which eat desiccated human bodies which are tipped in there ...

The explanation from Wikipedia runs: 'Lockhart discovers the transfusion wing of the spa is a front for macabre medical experiments, and that the water from the local aquifer possesses unique properties – toxic to humans, but with life-restoring properties for the eels living in the water. The baron had devised a process to filter the water through the bodies of humans and distil it into a life-giving essence; Volmer uses the patients as filters for this process.'

Thus Lockhart has his stomach filled with eels whilst lying in an iron lung contraption, and his body starts to excrete the 'cure' ...but Volmer has a fake 'face' - we see several, presumably replacement faces, growing in a lab - and the whole thing ends with the facility going up in flames during a ball for the patients, and then Lockhart escaping with Hannah ...

It's a long, confusing and confused film, although beautifully shot and edited. DeHaan is as one-note here as his next performance in Valerian, however, and you are never quite convinced that he is this trusted emissary from the financial company as he just looks too young. There's a lot asked of him though, and in the end he does acquit himself somewhat. Lockhart starts to lose his teeth, but then they come back again, and what about all the eels in his stomach? We never see them removed, so is he now immortal as well? And why does Volmer want to marry his own daughter? I suppose because she's the only other immortal that he can be with? Why do they capture and keep the CEO of a company, someone who is sure to be missed? And then do the same with the emissary sent to retrieve him? Isn't this just drawing attention to yourself?

And what's with the eels? And the poisoned water? It's all very arbitrary in its explanations and plot.

The film reminds me a little of Dario Argento's Suspiria in as much as we have a hero who is forced to stay at a facility where they are getting up to all manner of nastiness under the covers ... but here there are no witches, just science. It's interesting that Mia Goth went on to play Sara in the 2018 remake of Suspiria!

Overall it was an enjoyable, if confusing, watch. There's some nice material here, and, DeHaan aside, the performances are good. Hannah seems very child-like in her movements and innocence, but this at least is worked for in the plot and explanations. It's also somewhat overlong, and could perhaps have been shortened to when Lockhart realises his own fate in the institute. That would have been a bleak ending though, and one suspects that early screenings revealed that audiences might prefer a more feelgood ending ... and so they added another 30 minutes or so to the film as a result! I have no idea.



Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Review: Anti-Life (2020)

Well that was something of a mish-mash of ideas! Anti-Life (which also seems to have been called Breach) has elements of Alien in there, and The Thing, and also pretty much any sci-fi film with Bruce Willis ... add in conceptual stuff like Earth being evacuated, Humanity in giant spaceships heading for a new planet, and you might start to get the idea of what Anti-Life is all about.

The problem with it is that there's almost too much going on, and stuff happens for no particular reason than to progress the action. Basically there's a ship heading off to a new planet, and Our Hero, called Noah (Noah's ark ... get it), played by Cody Kearsley, gets on it with his pregnant girlfriend Hayley (Kassandra Clementi), who happens to be the daughter of the Captain. She is put in stasis for the journey, but strangely Noah pretends to be a junior janitor and joins the crew who are to keep the ship going for the next 80 days or however long it will take to get there.

Meanwhile, Bruce Willis is there as Clay, a senior janitor, who makes moonshine in the cargo hold ... there's also a worrying amount of some powerful acid-like stuff on board which eats through everything a little like the Alien's blood in Alien does ...

And there's an alien life form too ... not sure where it comes from but it's inside one of the crew, Shady (Johann Urb), and bursts out of him, exploding his body as it goes, and then infecting another crew member, Blue (Johnny Messner), who is nearby. Annoyingly the effect is cut away from and we don't see the monster ... in fact this is a common trend throughout, not showing anything until we get to the Big Bad at the end ... and then we realise why ... it's just not very good!

The alien infects person after person, turning them into zombies which then rampage and attack everyone else ... and so the thing spreads. The crew discover that guns and lasers and so on might chop the humans up into pieces, but those pieces then join back together to form a Thing-like composite creature which continues to rampage ... And then they discover that the acid stuff kills the human shells - melting them away.  So they use that ...

Meanwhile the alien collective has got into the nuclear power centre of the ship and has accelerated it towards New Earth - it wants the planet! So Noah and Hayley have to stop it!

The film had the potential to be quite good, but there's too much running around and shooting, and not enough of the monsters (apart from the infected humans, who drool black goo, have a tentacle where their tongue was, and scream a lot!).

Oddly, the whole thing reminded me of author Sam Stone's far superior short novel, The Darkness Within which deals with similar themes (human race heading to the stars on a ship, an alien incursion, turning the humans into zombies etc) but which handles them far more logically and cleverly than this film does.

Overall it was an enjoyable mess of a film, with Willis phoning in his performance, and the effects of the composite monster at the end being something of a letdown. Diverting, but annoying, as it could and should have been so much better.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Review: Love and Monsters (2020)

This film crept up on us ... and we watched it on Netflix the other night ... it's a revelation!

It starts with a nice Zombieland vibe with a narration and animations from our genial hero, Joel Dawson (Dylan O'Brien) who is living in a bunker with a group of friends. An asteroid has wiped out most life on Earth and caused reptiles and insects to grow to giant size and prey on the humans. In the bunker, all but Joel have paired up, leaving him lonely and with only kitchen duties to look forward to as he freezes up when attacked.

Joel decides that he needs to go and find a girl called Aimee (Jessica Henwick) who he was separated from when the humans first fled from the enlarged amphibians. So he sets off alone, armed only with his trusty bow and arrows. Along the way to the beach, where he knows Aimee is from her brief radio contact, he is rescued from a monster's nest by Clyde Dutton (Michael Rooker) and Minnow (Ariana Greenblatt) and makes a friend in a dog called Boy. There are monsters large and small and eventually he arrives at the beach only to find that Aimee and her colony have been 'rescued' by an Australian called Cap (Dan Ewing) ... but all is not as it seems.

What I liked most about Love and Monsters is that it presents a straightforward character in an extraordinary situation ... and just about managing to muddle through it all. There is a great deal of charm in the script by Brian Duffield and Matthew Robinson, and director Michael Matthews makes it all sing. The monsters are superbly realised. They look real and horrific, and move in ways which make your flesh creep. It's a marvellous tour de force of CGI and really does not disappoint.

As the film progresses, so much of it becomes simply charming. I loved the sequence with the active robot, giving Joel a glimpse of his parents again; the dog is incredible, acting so well on cue and stealing the show; the giant crab at the end, echoing what Joel had been told earlier ... and so on. Everything is worked for here, and the characters and the effects mesh seamlessly together to create a very believable narrative.

It's a hugely enjoyable film, with a nice feelgood ending, and I can see that it's one which we might need to return to.  

Review: The Reckoning (2020)

It's hard to know where to start this review. Once upon a time, the name Neil Marshall was the best new hope in horror, with his debut feature Dog Soldiers being one of the top werewolf films ever made - up there with The Howling and An American Werewolf in London - and the follow up, The Descent, being a brilliantly claustrophobic creature feature of the very best kind.

Since those two classics, however, Marshall has struggled. His science fiction opus Doomsday was a flat re-telling of Escape from New York, and Centurion was a dull historical yarn. His segment of Tales From Halloween was disappointing, Hellboy was a bit of an improvement, and now we have another historical tale in The Reckoning.

Set in the plague-ridden 17th Century, Marshall tells the story of a woman, Grace Haverstock (Charlotte Kirk), who loses her husband to the plague, and who is then accused of being a witch by the local squire (Steven Waddington). The witch-finder Moorcroft (Sean Pertwee) is called in, who proceeds to torture her to confess to being a witch, which she refuses to do.


It's all very predictable and hopeless, recalling the much better Witchfinder General, and, strangely, elements of Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter, and although Pertwee is by far the best thing in it, the other main cast members are weak and unbelievable. Especially Kirk, who seems to walk through it all with something of a bemused air. Of the supporting cast, Emma Campbell-Jones is great in the brief time we see her as Charlotte's mother, before being burned at the stake, and the young lad (Maximillian Slash Marton - I think ...) who takes pity on her is likewise excellent. 

There's some nasty torture here which Charlotte seems to shrug off with indifference, and some sort of gruesome internal torture device - which is inserted into an unnamed cavity and then slowly opened - would have left her bleeding to death, and yet she seems unaffected by it. Perhaps she really is a witch.

It's such a shame that the plot is so unfocussed and rambling. It takes about ten minutes of screen time to see Charlotte's husband killing himself and for her to find him, dig a grave, and bury him, all interspersed with flashbacks explaining what happened. We should have opened with him dead, and then got on with it!

The visuals are excellent, though, with plague-masked villagers ganging up on Charlotte, and the scenes of death and poverty are well done. One thing I've never quite understood about the whole 'witch mania' which apparently gripped England, was why other men and woman were so eager to decry their neighbours as being witches, knowing full well that it could, and sometimes would, be them next. The film doesn't explore this, and instead seems to be more about how Charlotte can stay above it all, protesting her innocence, while Moorcroft tries ever-more painful and degrading tortures on her.

There's a very vague supernatural element as Charlotte seems to see the Devil (Ian Whyte) at various points, but this is not expanded on or explained - perhaps it's her hallucinating due to the pain? Perhaps it's real? Perhaps it's an allegory? There are no answers in the film.

Ultimately this seems to be a film with a weak script, starring an unimpressive lead, and telling a story which has been told many times before. As a viewer I was left wondering what the point was. It's a great shame as Marshall has a great sense of the visual, and yet he seems to be struggling to find the right projects to realise. I hope he can come back more strongly soon.




Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Review: Demons (1985) and Demons II (1986)


A couple of older films for the blog today, and the lovely people at Arrow video are releasing the two Lamberto Bava horror films from the eighties, Demons (1985) and Demons II (1986) on limited edition UHD 4K blu-ray. The films are notable as being produced by Dario Argento, and with music by Claudio Simonette (keyboardist from the band Goblin, who scored Argento's masterpiece Suspiria and Dawn of the Dead among others, and Simonette has also scored many other films under his own name). 

Of the two films, Demons is the better - not surprising as this tends to mostly be the case where sequels of diminishing effectiveness are produced following a successful initial movie.

There's a lot to like about Demons. It starts with something of a nod to films like Deathline and, indeed, Suspiria to an extent, where a lone woman, Cheryl (Natasha Hovey), finds herself in an underground station in Berlin. She makes her way out of the deserted place, seemingly hunted by a creep in a mask (Michele Soavi) ... but said creep turns out to be promoting a new movie theatre, the Metropol, in town and is handing out free tickets.

Thus Cheryl, along with her friend Kathy (Paola Cozzo), and two boys they meet, George (Urbano Barberini) and Ken (Karl Zinny), attend the film. A mask is hanging on a motorcycle display in the foyer and one of the other attendees, a prostitute called Rosemary (Geretta Giancarlo), scratches her face on it before going in to watch the film.

The film they watch tells the tale of a group of kids who discover a coffin belonging to Nostradamus, one of them scratches himself on an identical mask found in the coffin, and he then transforms into a bloodthirsty demon and slaughters all his friends.

Meanwhile in the theatre, Rosemary feels ill and heads to the bathroom, where she transforms into a bloodthirsty demon and starts slaughtering those at the film show, transforming them into demons as she does so. There then follows action and gore and transformations galore as George and Cheryl try to escape unscathed ...

It's a fun film, and certainly superior to much of the comparable fare at the time - indeed many of them have also been released by Arrow over the years! This new print is clear and looks as good as new, and it's eye-opening how much watching a decent print improves the viewing experience.

Demons II follows a similar path, but makes much less sense. It's set in a tower block where some kids are trying to have a party. The party girl, Sally (Coralina Cataldi Tassoni), locks herself away as she doesn't want to meet someone called Jacob who has arrived unexpectedly, and ends up watching a film on television where a group of kids are investigating a ruined city - or perhaps the destroyed movie theatre from the first film. One of the movie kids revives one of the dead demons by dripping blood into its mouth, and before you know it, all the demons are coming back to life and attacking the kids. One comes through the TV screen at Sally and infects her, and soon the whole tower block is infested with demons killing and transforming everyone else. Their blood seems to be like acid as well, and burns holes through the floors and ceilings! Shades of Alien!

In what seems to be a completely different and better film entirely, another group from the tower's gym manage to escape down into the underground car park where they barricade themselves in and try to escape while all around them the demons rage and attack. There's also something about a demon baby which appears, and also a couple (George (David Knight) and Hannah (Nancy Brilli)) who are expecting a child - she eventually gives birth in a television studio nearby ...

As mentioned, the sequel makes little sense. With the first film there's a tenuous logic that the mask scratches Rosemary which causes her to transform and kill/convert everyone into demons. But the film they are watching (apart from featuring the same mask) has nothing to do with the real life events. In the second, the cause of the demonic uprising seems to be the movie on television - and no explanation is given as to how or why one of the things can come out of the TV to infect Sally. Likewise there's a lot of running about and screaming and demon effects which take up screen time but don't really achieve much with regards to the plot. 

I liked the stuff with the gym people - very eighties with muscle men and girls in hi-cut leotards and leg warmers - as they at least seemed to have a plan and a plot progression about them. But the whole thing ends with a whimper ... a shame as the original film concluded somewhat differently.

Perhaps it would have been better if they had made Demons II as a carry-on sequel from the first film ... but this was not to be. And see if you can spot Asia Argento (Dario's daughter) playing Ingrid Haller somewhere in the second film ... I'm not sure I knew which girl she was!

Overall these two films have a firm place in horror history, they are entertaining and, for the most part, watchable examples of eighties horror fare coming out of the Italian Giallo scene.

LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS

  • Brand new 4K restoration of both films by Arrow Films from the original camera negatives
  • 4K (2160p) UHD Blu-ray™ presentations of both films in Dolby Vision (HDR10 compatible)
  • Limited edition packaging featuring newly commissioned artwork by Adam Rabalais
  • Limited edition 60-page booklet featuring new writing by Roberto Curti, Rachael Nisbet and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
  • Double-sided fold-out poster
  • Exclusive mystery sneak preview movie ticket (admits one to the Metropol Theatre)

DISC 1 (4K ULTRA-HD BLU-RAY) DEMONS

  • Two versions of the film: the full-length original cut in Italian and English, and the slightly trimmed US cut, featuring alternate dubbing and sound effects
  • Brand new lossless English and Italian 5.1 audio tracks on the original cut
  • Original lossless English and Italian 2.0 stereo audio tracks on the original cut
  • Original lossless English 1.0 mono audio track on the US cut
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for both English soundtracks
  • New audio commentary by critics Kat Ellinger and Heather Drain, co-hosts of the Hell’s Bells podcast
  • Archival audio commentary by director Lamberto Bava and special makeup effects artist Sergio Stivaletti, moderated by journalist Loris Curci
  • Archival audio commentary by Lamberto Bava, Sergio Stivaletti, composer Claudio Simonetti and actress Geretta Geretta
  • Produced by Dario Argento, a new visual essay by author and critic Michael Mackenzie exploring the legendary filmmaker’s career as a producer
  • 'Dario’s Demon Days', an archival interview with writer/producer Dario Argento
  • 'Defining an Era in Music', an archival interview with Claudio Simonetti
  • 'Splatter Spaghetti Style', an archival interview with long-time Argento collaborator Luigi Cozzi
  • Italian theatrical trailer
  • International English theatrical trailer
  • US theatrical trailer

DISC 2 (4K ULTRA-HD BLU-RAY) – DEMONS 2

  • Brand new lossless English and Italian 5.1 audio tracks
  • Original lossless English and Italian 2.0 stereo audio tracks
  • Newly translated English subtitles for the Italian soundtrack
  • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing for the English soundtrack
  • New audio commentary by critic Travis Crawford
  • Archival audio commentary by director Lamberto Bava and special makeup effects artist Sergio Stivaletti, moderated by journalist Loris Curci
  • 'Together and Apart', a new visual essay on space and technology in Demons and Demons 2 by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
  • 'Creating Creature Carnage', an archival interview with Sergio Stivaletti
  • 'Bava to Bava', an archival interview with Luigi Cozzi on the history of Italian horror
  • Italian theatrical trailer
  • English theatrical trailer